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Germany exploring possibility of dose-sharing, says German Federal President

In a joint press briefing, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier have called for fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to Steinmeier, the global community must ensure equitable access to COVID-19 tools both out of moral reasons and out of self-interest. Only if everyone everywhere is safe, can we prevent the virus and mutations from returning, he stated. Given the current scarcity of vaccine doses, providing the funding only, however, would not solve the problem, Steinmeier outlined. Therefore, Germany is currently exploring the possibility of sharing doses with other countries, although the scope and timeline are not clear yet.

Ghebreyesus echoed Steinmeier in stating that providing the funding would be useless if rich countries would at the same time undermine the COVAX initiative by only securing doses for themselves. The numbers of doses available in 2021 must thus be fairly distributed, Ghebreyesus said.

To the question of waiving patents to scale up vaccine production, both Steinmeier's and Ghebreyesus’ reactions were restrained. While Steinmeier called to not simplify the debate, Ghebreyesus stated that every possibility must be considered – even waivers on intellectual property –  to allow for the world’s recovery from this unprecedented health crisis.

Ghebreyesus further announced the plan of establishing a WHO center for public health intelligence and risk analysis in Berlin, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ghebreyesus agreed on last year.

News article – Tagesspiegel (in German)

Press briefing – WHO

At G7 meeting, Germany pledges additional US$1.8 billion in funding to ACT-A for global COVID-19 response

At a virtual G7 meeting, hosted by the UK Presidency to discuss the global COVID-19 response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged €1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) in additional funding to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), the global alliance to accelerate development, production, and promote fair access to COVID-19 tests, therapies, and immunization.

With this newly announced contribution, Germany is the largest donor to ACT-A. In her speech, Merkel emphasized the importance of international cooperation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which can only succeed if everyone everywhere is vaccinated. However, according to her, the provision of funding will only be one part of the equationtackling the pandemic also requires the timely delivery of vaccines. Therefore, it is pivotal for the COVAX vaccine distribution initiative to conclude contracts with manufacturers to distribute vaccines quickly to its partner countries, she said.

In addition to providing financial support, Germany is currently exploring the possibility to pass on some of the vaccines it has ordered for Germany to “poorer countries”, Merkel stated. However, the timeline and scale for potential dose-sharing are not clear yet. This would not put vaccine appointments at risk in Germany, she assured.

In addition to Germany, the US, the European Commission, Japan, and Canada announced new pledges for ACT-A or its COVAX pillar at the virtual G7 leaders' meeting and at the Munich Security Conference later in the day. In total, the G7 leaders contributed over US$4.3 billion in additional funding to ACT-A that day. With the new contributions made, ACT-A is left with a funding gap of US$22.9 billion to fully fund its work in 2021.

Press release – The Federal Chancellor

Press release – The Federal Chancellor (in German)

Biden pledges US$4.0 billion to COVAX, bringing US further into global COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Ahead of the virtual G7 meeting, US President Joseph Biden announced a pledge of US$4.0 billion for COVAX, the global initiative for COVID-19 vaccine access. The funds will include US$2.0 billion in already appropriated funds plus an additional US$2.0 billion over the next two years.  

COVAX is an international agreement spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) to increase the purchase and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to lower-income countries. Biden's announcement represents a reversal of the Trump administration's refusal to join the effort, driven in part by Trump's disapproval of the WHO. Biden also encouraged other G7 partners to follow through with their pledges.

Despite the funding decision, there are calls for the US and other wealthy countries to start sharing part of their vaccination supply with those poorer countries with no vaccines. Administration officials said that Biden is, for now, focused on most Americans getting vaccinated, and a White House statement said that the US will donate surplus doses "once there is sufficient supply in the United States".

News article - Associated Press

EU contributes additional US$605 million to COVAX to enable COVID-19 vaccine access in low- and middle-income countries

During the virtual G7 leaders' meeting, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU will double its contribution to COVAX, a global vaccine initiative that aims to ensure universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, by providing an additional €500 million (US$605 million). 

The contribution is composed of a new €300 million (US$363 million) grant and a €200 million (US$242 million) loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) backed by guarantees through the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD+).

This brings the EU's total grant contribution amount to COVAX to €400 million (US$487 million) and the total amount in guarantees to €600 million (US$730 million).

COVAX is the vaccine pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), an initiative to ensure global, equitable access to COVID-19 medical tools, including diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the new contributions to ACT-A announced by G7 leaders during their virtual meeting bring the total committed to US$10.3 billion, reducing the overall funding gap to US$22.9 billion.

Press release - European Commission

Press release - WHO

EU provides US$122 million in humanitarian assistance to support COVID-19 vaccine rollout in African countries

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an EU contribution of €100 million (US$122 million) in humanitarian assistance to support the rollout of vaccination campaigns in African countries, an effort spearheaded by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

This funding will target support to vaccination campaigns in fragile countries with humanitarian situations and will contribute to ensuring successful cold chains (temperature-regulated supply chains), rollout registration, training, and logistics.

Press release - European Commission

Canada commits over US$70 million to Caribbean Development Bank's Special Development Fund

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marc Garneau, has announced a funding commitment of CA$81 million (US$64 million) to the Caribbean Development Bank's Special Development Fund over the next four years.

This pledge is 16% larger than Canada's previous contribution to the Fund. With this recent announcement, Canada remains the largest country contributor to the Special Development Fund.

Canada has also allocated an additional CA$9 million (US$7 million) to the World Food Programme to specifically help Caribbean countries respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Press release - Global Affairs Canada 

Canada announces new US$59 million contribution to ACT-A

Canada has announced an additional CA$75 million (US$59 million) to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), "the global platform created to secure equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments". 

This new funding brings Canada's total commitment to ACT-A to CA$940 million (US$744 million).

Canada, to date, has committed approximately CA$2.0 billion (US$1.6 billion) to the global COVID-19 pandemic response.

Press release - Prime Minister of Canada

At UK-led G7 meeting, "collective G7 support" to ACT-A totals US$7.5 billion, but experts criticize UK for retaining surplus doses until citizens are fully vaccinated

The UK hosted its first virtual G7 leaders' meeting on February 19, 2021, after which "collective G7 support" totaled US$7.5 billion for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), an increase of over US$4.0 billion.

ACT-A's vaccine pillar, COVAX, is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and it aims to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines, including to low-income countries.

At the meeting, the US under the new Biden administration pledged to provide US$4.0 billion in development assistance to COVAX over the next three years, Germany pledged an additional US$1.8 billion, and the EU pledged an additional US$608 million.

These commitments were welcomed by the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, but he noted that more needs to be done. At present, only 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations worldwide, with 130 countries not yet receiving a single dose.

French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for greater action to address the imbalance, with a drive to get Europe and the US to provide 5% of their own supplies to low-income nations. The UK has ruled out doing this and has committed only to providing its surplus vaccines after its entire population has been vaccinated. This decision has been criticized by some UK global health experts, who have questioned the ethics of such a decision, whereby young people in the UK will receive the vaccine ahead of health workers and elderly in other countries.  

News article - BBC

News article - Devex

With additional G7 pledges of US$4.3 billion, ACT-A commitments to date stand at US$10.3 billion; funding gap of US$22.9 billion remains

On February 19, 2021, at the virtual G7 leaders' meeting, US$4.3 billion in new commitments were made to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and its vaccine pillar, COVAX, to contribute to closing the funding gap in global COVID-19 response and ensure equitable vaccine distribution. 

The contributions included the following:

  • Canada committed US$59 million to ACT-A;
  • Japan committed US$79 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a COVAX funding mechanism to support access to vaccines for lower-income countries, as well as to Unitaid;
  • Germany committed US$1.8 billion to ACT-A, covering all of ACT-A's pillars and including "tests, treatments, vaccines, and health systems strengthening";
  • US committed US$4.0 billion to COVAX AMC (US$2.0 billion in already appropriated funds and an additional US$2.0 billion over the next two years); and
  • The EU committed US$363 million to COVAX AMC, along with a US$242 million loan from the European Investment Bank backed by guarantees through the European Fund for Sustainable Development.

ACT-A initially needed US$38.1 billion for 2020-2021; following an early February Facilitation Council meeting, ACT-A announced that the remaining funding gap was US$27.2 billion.

Following the new contributions announced at the G7 meeting, the total committed to ACT-A to date was US$10.3 billion and the funding gap was brought down to US$22.9 billion, according to the WHO press release.

Press release - WHO

Press release - Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Australia, Papua New Guinea, Germany collaborate on trial of magnetic diagnostic test for malaria

Dr. Stefan Carl, a senior research fellow at James Cook University in North Queensland, has undertaken field trials of a new test that detects malaria-infected blood which included a field site of almost 1,000 people in Papua New Guinea.

The test detects malaria parasites through their magnetic properties. It holds the prospect of providing an outcome in ten minutes without requiring expensive reagents (added substances for chemical reactions) or detailed laboratory training.

The test was developed in a collaboration between German, Papua New Guinea, and Australian research centers.

News article - Mirage News

At Munich Security Conference, France's Macron calls for delivery of vaccines to African continent immediately

On February 19, 2021, at the annual Munich Security Conference, French President Emmanuel Macron presented two main priorities that he sees for the transatlantic partnership.

First, Macron advocated for effective multilateralism on tackling the climate crisis, lessening inequalities, and preserving democracies (especially, he said, when it comes to preserving freedom of speech and avoiding "the return of hate" in our democracies). He mentioned that action should be undertaken to reallocate Special Drawing Rights and consider debt restructuring to help fund health priorities in the African continent.

He explained that while rich countries have managed to give their populations effective COVID-19 vaccine doses, it is important to ensure doses are also available for countries in Africa—an effort which is at the heart of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), led by the World Health Organization.

He pointed out that there are 6.5 million health workers in Africa, meaning that 13 million doses are needed immediately for them. The 13 million doses represent only 0.43% of the vaccines currently available to the G7 countries. Macron called for delivering vaccine doses quickly in the African continent rather than in the planned six months because, otherwise, many of the African countries will buy vaccines at a more expensive price. 

The second part of his remarks focused on building a security agenda (including a refreshed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) security architecture), fixing solutions to regional issues in the Sahel region, Syria, and Libya, as well as maintaining "freedom of sovereignty" in terms of space, cyberspace, and maritime space.

Speech - French Presidency (in French)

At G7 summit, Japan commits US$79 million to COVAX, discusses international cooperation and Tokyo Olympics

On February 19, 2021, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attended the virtual G7 summit, where he discussed COVID-19 vaccines, international cooperation, and the Tokyo Olympics.

Suga highlighted the importance of the COVAX Facility in achieving the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide. Japan committed US$79 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a COVAX funding mechanism to support access to vaccines for lower-income countries, as well as to Unitaid.

He also discussed relations with China, including "Japan’s concerns on attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East and South China Sea", as well as his desire to hold a safe and secure Tokyo Olympics during the summer of 2021.

Press release - Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Statement - G7

EU announces US$180 million HERA Incubator, new bio-defense preparedness plan to combat threat of COVID-19 variants

The European Commission announced a new addition to its vaccine strategy with a plan to bolster the EU’s preparedness against future COVID-19 variants of concern by investing €150 million (US$180 million) in research through a new 'HERA Incubator'.

The HERA Incubator – the first pilot initiative of the proposed new authority, the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) – will be a public-private cooperative effort to pool knowledge and resources between industry, scientists, and regulators. The incubator will focus on identifying and learning about variants quicker, researching on adapting vaccines, better organizing clinical trials, helping the European Medicines Agency (EMA) fast-track regulatory approval of updated vaccines, and upscaling mass production of new vaccines. 

The EU’s new bio-defense preparedness plan includes:

  • The newly launched 'Vaccelerate', an EU-wide clinical trials network; 
  • Standardizing and increasing genome sequencing across the bloc to 5% of all cases (from an average of 1%); 
  • Conducting research into the transmissibility of variants;
  • Supporting quick exchanges of relevant epidemiological and sequencing data; 
  • Developing new variant-specific diagnostics; 
  • Speeding up the EMA’s approval process for vaccines that are adapted to be more effective against variants of concern; and
  • Boosting vaccine manufacturing as a part of its 'EU Fab' project, which will be folded into HERA once the authority is established.

Press release - European Commission

Press release - European Commission

Factsheet - European Commission

Statement - European Commission

News article - Euractiv

News article - Science|Business

US to pay US$200 million in overdue membership fees to WHO

The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, announced that the US would repay in full all past membership fees owed to the World Health Organization (WHO). Speaking before the United Nations Security Council, Blinken said that the US would pay the US$200 million in dues to the WHO before the end of the month.

US President Joe Biden had made rejoining the WHO one of his first priorities when he took office, reversing former President Donald Trump's announcement in July 2020 that the US would withdraw. 

"This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member and it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic," Blinken told the UN Security Council.

He also called on partner countries to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation and to share relevant data on the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak with investigators.

News article - CNBC News

EU's newly released agenda for renewed multilateralism aims to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines

The European Commission and the European External Action Service released a new EU strategy for “renewed multilateralism” that includes the goal to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines through funding research and production, ensuring global access, and strengthening the global health system (including through leading on World Health Organization reform efforts).

The joint communication calls for the EU to step up its leadership and make better use of its ability to act as a "convenor, honest broker and bridge-builder,” calling for a “new generation of partnerships.”

Other categories of action include strengthening global recovery and tackling inequalities; combatting the climate crisis and building more sustainable systems; establishing global rules for new digital technologies; and modernizing global institutions.

Press release - European Commission

Factsheet - European Commission

Strategy document - European External Action Service

UK government proposes new resolution at UN Security Council to enable temporary ceasefires to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council to support temporary ceasefires in conflict-affected areas to enable a coordinated effort for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The resolution also calls on COVID-19 vaccination plans to include all high-risk populations, including refugees.

More than 160 million people worldwide are at risk of being excluded from vaccinations because of instability and conflict. Vaccination ceasefires are not new and have been successfully adopted in previous years to ensure those living in fragile contexts benefit from vaccination programs.  

The UK currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, for February 2021.

Press release - UK government

European Commission strikes deals with Moderna, BioNTech-Pfizer for 300 million more possible vaccines from each

The European Commission (EC) has struck a second deal with Moderna for access to an additional 300 million vaccines for EU member states (150 million in 2021 and the option for 150 million in 2022), on top of the 160 million the EU already had through its previous agreement with Moderna.

The EC also finalized a second agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer for an additional 200 million doses to be delivered during 2021, with the option for 100 million more. This is on top of the 300 million doses (committed for 2021) through its first agreement signed last year.

Press release - European Commission

Press release - BioNTech

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Australia

Australia’s medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has announced that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in Australia and is considered safe for those over 65. This followed the World Health Organization’s recommendations on the vaccine.

The TGA recommended a 12-week gap between the first and second vaccine injections. The previously anticipated end date of October 2021 for all Australians to vaccinated may be pushed out further, due to this longer gap between the first and second shots.

The Australian government has agreed to buy 50 million doses of the vaccine from CSL Limited (formerly Commonwealth Serum Laboratories), the major Australian vaccine producer. Australia has also announced it will aim to provide COVID-19 doses for people in the Pacific and other regional countries.

CSL has already commenced production of the vaccine and aims to produce one million doses per week.  The company expressed that it is confident that, once supplied with updated materials, it could adapt the vaccine to combat new strains of the virus.

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

Sweden reduces ODA to Myanmar following military coup

On February 16, 2021, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, decided to suspend part of its official development assistance (ODA) to Myanmar. The decision comes after a military coup on February 1.

Swedish ODA to Myanmar has primarily been focused on supporting peace, democracy, and health care, and while Sida has now decided to suspend all ODA directed to state actors, the agency will continue to support initiatives implemented by independent actors that promote democracy and human rights.

In practice, this means that the Swedish ODA that has been channeled through the UN Development Program to support accountability mechanisms and strengthen democratic institutions, including Parliament, has now been suspended. In addition, support channeled through the anti-corruption program out of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has also been terminated.

After the military coup, all three programs were immediately frozen by the UN and the principles of the UN’s engagement with Myanmar are currently under review. In conflict areas where other health services are lacking, exceptions have been made to allow for limited continued cooperation with the Access to Health Fund and the UN Population Fund to promote lifesaving operations, such as ambulance transport and COVID-19 protection equipment for field personnel.

In 2019, Sweden's ODA to Myanmar amounted to SEK 306 million (US$37 million).

Press release – Sida (in Swedish)

Japan provides emergency grant assistance of US$6 million for people affected by crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region

Japan announced that it will provide US$6 million in emergency grant assistance for people affected by the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia since an armed conflict broke out in November 2020.

Through the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Japan will provide health-related humanitarian assistance, including mental health services and the repairing of health centers, as well as the provision of relief items such as food and hygiene products.

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs